Copyblogger’s 10 Rules for Writing First Drafts

10 Rules for Writing First Drafts

Like this infographic?

Correction: Celebrate with champagne, a bottle of Smuttynose or pitcher of sangria.

Copyblogger focuses on one good point, mimic the style of the greats. Steal with great pleasure. Don’t plagiarize, but sincerely admire and praise to no end. With this blog, I’ve tried to find authors with a particular writing style that appeals to me — stream of consciousness — from Hunter S.Thompson and James Joyce to José Saramago’s punctuation-less prose.

My credo: Write ’till your heart’s content. Look to other writers for inspiration and who respect the craft. Respect yourself and your talents. Don’t fear the red pen because constructive criticism is what will make you a stronger writer. Take a step back once in awhile – a fresh perspective can present pivotal changes in your story. Save all old drafts, even if to lock them away in a box at the bottom of your closet; they will be useful one day. Immerse yourself in language: diction, syntax, tone and voice. And share, even if you’re afraid.


Malcolm Sayer and Robin Williams as Dr. Oliver Sacks

I love the beauty of storytelling. Writers electrify words, encourage your imagination to grow with the events of a story, and make you connect to characters as if they were people you met in real life.

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My favorite actor is Robert DeNiro, and don’t worry this is not a story about Bob’s acting chops, but rather an introduction to the inspiration behind one of his film’s, Awakenings. (Sidenote: Although, he does have some range playing Michael’s father in the Godfather to Drew Barrymore’s father in Everybody’s Fine.) DeNiro plays Leonard, a man who after falling ill from encephalitis lethargica, is now in a catatonic state. We meet Robin Williams, a doctor at the residential hospital who discovers the drug L-Dopa (used to treat Parkinson’s) to temporarily waken the patients who had all been imprisoned by this immoveable plague. Characters, both patients and doctor staff exhibit an incredible amount of resilience and dedication to keep pushing through the obstacles faced before them. As a reader, I progressed with Leonard as he was relearning an old habit and felt his pain as he struggled with things that were once easy.

I’ve seen this movie and read the book many times, always finding a new way of looking at it. I enjoy Dr. Oliver Sacks’ storytelling because he takes me away to a fictional world where I care and sympathize for his characters. Through this creative conduit, I am introduced to real emotions of disappointment, admiration and compassion. To end, “[Sacks] opens to the reader doors of perception generally passed through only by those at the far borders of human experience.” –The Boston Globe

Back to the Basics of Creative Writing

The girl sat down next to her elder in the old wicker rocking chair; wood of old mahogany, smooth to the touch and whose gentle sound mirrored a slight creaking of the floor for which it stood. ”I’m going to tell you a story and in this story I’m going to teach you something: I’m going to teach you about strength and rising above grim odds to be best you can be,” she said to her granddaughter.

”In Greek mythology, characters are often tested to see who they really are; heroes exceed the limits of average men who then become gods, lovers are often tested of their devotion and loyalty for one another in an eternal bond, and faith makes us all believe in a constant, despite the turbulent times we may live in. There are symbols too that teach us something about ourselves:

A phoenix is a magical bird who is able to transcend above all ruins. It truly is a unique creature; said to rise above the flames of a fire to its rebirth. The bird actually lays down to rest — to die above the very bed it built and sacrifices itself anew. It’s a prescious reminder that we can start over again from despair and tragedy.   

So when the new-born Phoenix first is seen

         Her feathered subjects all adore their queen,

         And while she makes her progress through the East,

         From every grove her numerous train ‘s increased;

         Each poet of the air her glory sings,

         And round him the pleased audience clap their wings.

When I first went to work for the family, before they moved into the ‘ole 1600 Penn address, I had this sort of ambivalence towards the couple who hired me. I of course looked after other children before, but never those bearing a prominent name. Granted: I was nervous.”

The old woman glanced around the room, staring at the photographs lining the mantle and down at the chest beside her. The vessel overflowed with letters printed on fainted paper, all addressed to ‘Ms. Maud Shaw.’ Their return addresses, however, beautifully transcribed and postmarked from exotic locations along the Greek Isles and the Upper East Side. She continued…

”The Mrs. treated me like any other member of the extended family — because God knows — she had a lot of brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces, and nephews to keep track of. I was not the nanny of the two children, but the adopted live-in grandmother. Mrs. Kennedy showed me adoration, as I did her.

We spent quite a few afternoons sharing stories in the grand room while the boy laid asleep and the girl at piano lessons. Mrs. Kennedy told me of her travels to India, memories of the camel adventures and market shopping with Lee, and the many times she hoped to bring the children along with her to distant lands. When she left the house with young John and Caroline and into her Fifth Avenue apartment, we still kept touch. I agreed to extend my contract for two more years at her service in January ’64. But after it ended, I went back home to your mother and uncle, and husband to start my own family. I continued to receive letters from her; Christmas cards, wedding invitations, postcards from abroad and sometimes envelopes of the children’s noted classroom achievements.

I sincerely admired her. She did not become a grieving queen when the weight of the world and the death of her husband tested her true strength as a woman and as a mother. Jacqueline Kennedy rose to become a phoenix for her two children and a nation struck by the loss of their 35th president.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing” inspired this week’s post.

Creating an architecturally sound text with a literary-themed structure

Professor Matteo Pericoli encourages his creative writing and architecture students at Columbia School of Arts to create a visual representation of a story. A literary, not literal model of a building with the foundation as characters, walls as plots, floors as themes and plumbing as interweaving parallelism.

When I read the NY Times article, ‘Writers as Architects‘ I started to think what book I would model my own structure after. Lorraine Hansberry’s story of the Youngers in A Raisin In the Sun was the first idea that popped in my head.

This is a story about aspirations and wanting a better life for yourself. Every character from Walter and Mama to Beneatha and Willy are dreaming of something more; their life’s struggles defined by these unfulfilled hopes.

I would like to build a free flowing structure, with its height giving you the illusion that it is always reaching upwards towards the sky. Think Gothic architecture with less clean lines. Its walls are nonlinear and its foundation impermeable.

Something like this:


BTW, this could be a great STEAM project!

José Saramago’s visceral storytelling

Blindness tells the story of nature vs nurture when an epidemic hits a small town. Colorful characters become blind with a ‘white evil.’  They lose sight of who they really are in an environment that is crashing down around them.

Jose Saramago’s words escape from the page, into a maze of twists and turns, and the road less traveled. Yet I feel connected. I pause — and put down the book with a new perspective.

The doctor’s wife, whose eyes have borne all the burden of witnessing what the others in their sightlessness were spared, offers us a kind of answer:

‘Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.’

People who see, but don’t see… This story is about introspection; a progression of thought and that moment when you reached a revelation. And finally you have an answer.

NY Times writer, Andrew Miller wrote this of the novelist; a true, lasting thought.

‘There is no cynicism and there are no conclusions, just a clear-eyed and compassionate acknowledgment of things as they are, a quality that can only honestly be termed wisdom. We should be grateful when it is handed to us in such generous measures.’

O’Reilly Killing Kennedy’s name

Anybody can write a book. But only Bill O’Reilly can sell five million copies of a subject that has been written dozens (understatement) of times before. Killing Kennedy is a creative nonfiction piece about the assassination of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy.

This continues O’Reilly’s presidential assassination-themed books, discussing conspiracy theories of Lincoln and JFK. I missed McKinley; I guess he wasn’t as interesting. Regardless, what makes Bill O’Reilly, Fox host, qualified to write a historical drama?

Stay tuned for another adorable actor, Rob Lowe to play Kennedy when National Geographic makes a TV movie of the same name.

Absurdism, existentialism and The Truman Show?

I recently stopped to watch The Truman Show again, not quite remembering why I liked it in the first place. It was definitely not Carrey’s underrated acting, but a theme that resonated throughout the film. I think everyone can relate that we  struggle to make sense of something that we can’t always make sense of.

Truman constantly tries to make sense of his life, and his role, not just as a Big Brother TV star, but as a human in the fictional set of Christoff’s mind. He is unassuming and ordinary. Life is going great; no curve balls, until one day he sees his father dressed as a hobo on the street. This is strange as we know Truman’s father died some twenty years ago. Yet the character continues to search for meaning to this freak occurrence…

Albert Camus described the same notion as absurdism. We will fail in finding the meaning of our lives because of the amount of uncertainties around it. Camus’ solution is acknowledging the absurd – realizing life is crazy just because it is. Camus explains, by accepting the Absurd, “one can achieve absolute freedom, accepting it as unstoppable and be content from the personal meaning constructed in the process.” We need to sit back, relax, put our trays in the upright position and just let life happen. Camus says “To live  without appeal.” In other words, ride the wave man.

This idea rings an all too familiar bell. With a little introspection I’ve come to realize there are things in my life I won’t understand; people that cannot be changed, events that can’t be repeated, and mistakes that cannot be forgotten. I try to make sense of why and get hung up in the process. Absurd right?

And if I don’t see ya – good afternoon, good evening and goodnight. Next up, was Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp from Into the Wild) a little Kafkaesque?